Summary: Abram had obeyed God and moved his household to the land of Canaan. While there, he experienced the first severe test of his new faith. How did he respond to this challenge?
Introduction: Abram had left Ur of the Chaldees and was now living in the land of Canaan. He had settled, at least for the time being, south of Bethel and Ai. The exact location is not given in the text. When a real problem came, Abram experienced his first significant test of faith. How would he respond to this problem or challenge?
Full disclosure: this message may and probably does bear a resemblance to a previous message, the first one in my “Go thy way” series, “Go thy way: When Abram went to Egypt” but I promise this message is not a carbon copy of that one. This message has a different focus even though the outcome is the same.
1 Abram’s test of faith: the famine that came to Canaan
Text, Genesis 12:10, KJV: 10 And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.
How often Abram had experienced famine during his days in Ur of the Chaldees is never stated. The city was located near the mouth of the Tigris/Euphrates Rivers and if the rivers flooded, like the Nile in Egypt, there was probably plenty of fertile soil for crops. Too, there might have been fish or other, similar, foods available by fishing from the river banks. None of that was available in the southern part of Canaan, where the land’s fertility was unknown in those days and the Jordan River was many miles away. The Mediterranean Sea was many miles to the west and if Abram was living near Hebron, as he was later (Gen 13:18), the body of water now known as the Dead Sea was still located on the other side of a mountain range, per Bible atlases.
Even so, the Jordan Valley was well-watered and Moses even said it was “as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar (Gen 13:10, KJV)”. If, however, Abram was aware of this, or if he knew anything about it, the text does not mention this. The thing to remember is that a famine in the land was something Abram might not have had to deal with before he came to Canaan. With family, livestock, and other people depending on him for just about everything, this must have been a crushing blow to him.
Something about famines: seldom are they sudden, as in plenty of crops and food one day and not much the next. The signs seem to be gradual: failure of crops, not enough or too much rain, enemy warriors disrupting the food supply, or other examples. How and when Abram realized there was a famine is as sobering as it was surprising. Again, it is doubtful he had ever had to endure anything like this before, so what was he going to do?
And even more, the problem was not just physical or agricultural. This was a test of faith on Abram’s part, even though he may not have understood what was going on. Something every believer has to remember is that nothing happens by chance, luck, happenstance, or anything like that. It is important to remember that every believer has an Enemy, the Devil or Satan, and he is furious that anyone leaves him to become a follower of Jesus. Abram’s spiritual condition is not certain at this point, but at the very least he was listening and following the God of Noah. He had even built some altars to the LORD before this point (Gen 11:7-9).
Now he was facing his first test of faith, even worse for him because his faith was still relatively new, and he was in a “can’t win” situation. He couldn’t stay where he was, as there wasn’t enough food for his household; but God had told him to leave his hometown (Ur) in apparently no uncertain terms—so that “I’m going back home” option wasn’t an option. Where could he go, and what could he do?
It turns out, there was another place he could go—but there was something he didn’t do first.
2 Abram’s lack of faith: the journey to Egypt
Text, Genesis 12:11-16, KJV: 11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: 12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. 13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee. 14 And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair. 15 The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. 16 And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.